Manifesto of the Poor: Solutions Come From Below

Ian Mowll | Wednesday, 16th April 2014
Ian Mowll reviews a passionate book that critiques the global economic system and presents a tried and tested alternative, Fairtrade.
Author: Francisco Van der Hoff Boersma
Publisher: Permanent Publications
Publication year: 2014
RRP: £5.95

This book is refreshingly gutsy and down-to-earth. It is written by Francisco Van der Hoff Boersma who was a co-founder of Fairtrade.

The author is a Dutch worker-priest with doctorates in economics and theology. For more than 30 years he worked in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico with peasant coffee farmers, some of the poorest and most downtrodden people in the world. Seeing the injustices, he helped to start Fairtrade. The first Fairtrade certification label was created in 1989 in Holland and now more than a million producers have benefited.

Creating Fairtrade was no mean feat. There were vested interests and multinationals to challenge - who were not going to give up their profits and power easily. But with real tenacity and courage, Francisco and his colleagues succeeded so that eventually the producers truly felt like owners, responsible and with a much less uncertain future (page 26).

Sometimes, I can feel the author's anger coming through, which gives the book real passion. And it is well directed anger - shot like an arrow to the bulls-eye. For instance, his critique challenges the global economic system as nothing more than the legal and systematic organization of injustice, inequality and exclusion (page xv). Whilst he says that Fairtrade is not against profit, he calls for much more regulation to ensure fairness and dignity for all.

Interestingly, he sees the internet as vital. So Fairtrade is no knee-jerk reaction back to a nostalgic past. The internet gives the producers a clearer idea of price fluctuations for their products in different markets and they are able to find out where their competitors are located.

He also calls for a return to contact with nature and says: by developing Fairtrade, we attacked social injustices but also the problem of the survival of the planet. Everything is interconnected (page 62).

It is refreshing not to hear a theorist, journalist or an arm chair spectator pontificating from afar but to hear from someone with arm sleeves rolled up, right in the thick of things and getting on with practical solutions. He says: I am a man of hope, who is convinced that a different and better world is possible (page 2).

Yes, yes, yes.

Ian Mowll is the coordinator of GreenSpirit, an Interfaith Minister and is passionate about exploring a spirituality that is relevant for our time. He lives in Stratford, East London.

This review was first published by GreenSpirit at

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